Growing up in Nebraska, Jaime King was an outcast among her peers. That was until she turned 14 and was discovered by a New York modeling agent. The Omaha-born blonde was catapulted onto the fast track, appearing in major magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Allure, and Harper’s Bazaar. The ‘90s saw her strutting the catwalk — clad in everything from Alexander McQueen to Chanel and Christian Dior — and making a name for herself as “James King.” But with the success came temptations that saw the budding star experimenting with drugs. After becoming clean at the age of 17, King turned her focus to acting. The early 2000s landed her supporting parts in films such as Pearl Harbor and White Chicks, while she was still working tirelessly to break into the Hollywood circuit. But shortly after marrying director Kyle Newman in 2007, she moved up the ranks, booking the lead in My Bloody Valentine, reprising her role of Goldie in Sin City 2, and starring as Lemon Breeland opposite Rachel Bilson on the CW’s Hart of Dixie.
Then came the 2013 birth of her son, James Knight, an experience the actress says changed the way she looked at every aspect of her life: “The biggest surprise of motherhood for me was having instincts kick in where nothing is more important than your child,” she tells Yahoo Style. These days, King is a poster child for family and healthy living. She’s a style icon, a soon-to-be mother of two, and a star who is not afraid to use her public-eye status to voice her opinions about everything from public breastfeeding to sexism in Hollywood and the perils of females failing to support one another. And with her rise to fame came a clique of mega-star besties.
You can’t hop online these days without being inundated with updates on King and her clan of A-list companions. And with her “girl squad,” including such paparazzi favorites as Jessica Alba, Taylor Swift (the godmother to her yet-unborn second child), Hailee Steinfeld, and Lena Dunham, it doesn’t appear that the media frenzy is going to be dying down anytime soon. This, however, is a part of King’s celebrity that doesn’t sit well with her.
“Nobody is asking me about the majority of my best friends, who have nothing to do with the industry. They don’t care about 75 percent of my friends that are the world to me. And that makes me sad,” she explains. While the Hart of Dixie actress understands the world’s obsession with life in the fast lane, she wants it known that her nonfamous friends are just as important as her celebrity ones. “If my sister is having a hard day or something happens at work, her trauma is just as important as anybody else’s trauma. Her happy days and joyful days are just as important as winning a Grammy. She teaches autistic children how to speak, and to me that is just as admirable as winning an Academy Award. I just wish that people would start to understand that.”
King adds that although she is surrounded by a flock of notorious females, contrary to popular belief, she doesn’t seek out her friendships based on who is who. “If I did that, I’d be a very sad person,” she says. But there is a magnetic force behind her bond with pals in the spotlight. “There are definitely things that come up that we can relate to and ask each other advice on,” she says. If Steinfeld is having career frustrations, for instance, King is instantly there to lend her expertise. The actress admits that it’s a bonus that her squad understands her schedule more than friends with 9-to-5 jobs. “If you don’t talk to them for weeks, they know why. They know that you are away doing something, and they are not going to be mad at you because they have the same crazy schedule.”
Touching on the subject of her famous BFFs, many of whom are younger women such as 24-year-old Sarah Hyland, 22-year-old Selena Gomez, and the 18-year-old Steinfeld, leads the 36-year-old King to divulge another one of her recent pet peeves: “This whole ageist thing! People are starting to bring age into the picture more and more, and I don’t know why that is. That just started happening this year,” she reveals. “I have friends that are 60 and 70 and 50 years old. We live in a modern world now where we are separated by our immediate families and you create families where you live. You create families that are like your older sisters, your younger sisters, your spiritual family. And that’s what I’ve done.” According to King, there is a dangerous stigma associated with latching on so tightly to the age factor in a relationship; it puts up a barrier to important human experiences, ones that are especially necessary in cities like Los Angeles, where a high percentage of its inhabitants have moved away from their immediate families. She reminds her critics of the long-standing adage “Age is just a number” and stresses that creating human relationships should come down to a person’s life experience and maturity, not just his or her birth year. “There are certain times when certain people are like a sister even though they are younger than me,” she explains. “And there are times where I am the older sister even though I’m younger, or I’m the older sister to people even older than me!”
When she’s not lounging on the couch or indulging in Chinese takeout with Swift and Alba, a typical hang with her celebrity besties, King is basking in the glow of motherhood. She’s currently expecting her second child with her husband, Kyle Newman, and after a difficult first conception, she is relieved that the process has been smoother with baby number two. “It was so much easier this time around,” she says. Prepping to add another life into the mix, however, has kept her busier than anticipated. It’s a balancing act between caring for 20-month-old James Knight, and being a part of his life changes while also forging a bond with the baby-to-be. “I have that connection with the baby inside of me now, but at the same time, I have a child that is running around and saying words and doing things that I would never want to miss out on.”
Motherhood suits King, whose voice becomes animated as she talks about her latest role in life. “I feel like I am a much better actress, writer, filmmaker, a much better human being, after having a baby,” she explains. “It’s very amazing how inspired I am by being a parent.”
While many expectant moms are trading in LBDs for sweats, King says being pregnant has made her feel more sensual than ever. “I just realized that when I became pregnant, it was really fun being dressed up. It’s really fun celebrating how your body changes. You get so exquisite and so beautiful. If anything, you can wear tighter things. You don’t have to suck in. Your breasts look amazing and everything is bigger and it’s like, 'You know what? Let’s celebrate this beautiful, feminine, symbolic thing that is happening.’” King urges mothers-to-be to continue to express themselves through fashion, regardless of society’s conceptions of appropriate maternal attire. She also calls “bull—-” on the pressures that Hollywood puts on new mothers to get back into shape immediately after giving birth. “I think it’s a disgusting product of ours that we have taken something so sacred and so meaningful and then put it upon a physical form and said, 'Oh you just had a baby. You have to look this way.’ Or 'Oh you’re pregnant and you’re too thin or you’re too fat, you’re gaining too much weight, you’ve lost too much weight too soon.’ It’s none of your business, first of all, and second of all, as long as your child is getting the nourishment that they need, nothing else matters.”
This is an especially sore spot for King, who has had many women approach her to explain that they hope to carry their pregnancy weight the same way that she has. While flattered by the compliments, King wants her female fans to know that things could have easily gone the other way. “I really thought that it would be totally different because my mom gained like 65 pounds during her pregnancy. And I didn’t have a big problem with that. I was comfortable in a sense that if that had to happen for me to have a healthy baby, so be it. I don’t care!” The race to lose the baby pounds and the postpartum body shaming make King sick to her stomach. “It’s not fair. It’s not something you would say to someone in a grocery store. You wouldn’t say to them, 'Oh, you have a newborn. You should have lost 20 pounds already.’ You would never say that to someone’s face. So why is it OK that we say that over Twitter or over Instagram or on TV? Why is that acceptable?”
Circling back to her career, King reveals that her next move is likely going to be one behind the camera. Over the past five years, she’s directed several shorts and music videos. It’s an area of the actress’s life that she doesn’t often publicize. “Me being behind the camera, it’s like a shift on the calm of the sea. If anything, it feels more natural to me than acting.” Things are pretty dismal for female directors in Hollywood, but King has found it best to simply tune that out. She lives by the principle that good work can’t be ignored and must be celebrated, whether it’s been produced by a male or by a female. She’s also surrounded herself with mentors, having even picked up a tip from the legendary George Lucas. “When I asked if he had any advice, he said, 'Know your vision and stick to it.’ And that’s some of the best advice I’ve ever been given; that’s applicable to everything in your life,” she explains. King articulates that she isn’t directing to make a statement or to take a stand against sexism in Hollywood; she’s striving to make films because it’s an authentic passion of hers.
It’s also a passion of her husband, who recently directed her in his film Barely Lethal. “I think I’m literally on the screen [in that film] for a total of 20 seconds, but I was on set a lot because I brought the baby down and I wanted to be there supporting my husband every step of the way,” she explains. Not all couples can successfully pull off working together, but King and Newman are no strangers to sharing their craft. The duo met in 2005 when King signed on for a role in Newman’s film Fanboys, but they didn’t kick things off romantically until they re-met six months later. “I have a strict no-hooking-up-with-people-at-work thing, so I’ve never hooked up with anybody at work,” King proclaims. She does admit to having felt an immediate “curiosity” about Newman but says was able to rein in her thoughts as quickly as they appeared. “I saw him and I was just like, 'Wow, he’s really beautiful and he’s very handsome and he’s very smart. Interesting. So what are we doing on the scene?’” she jokes.
As for her past, which included some rocky teen modeling days, overcoming addictions, and years of trying to break into the Hollywood club, King says she wouldn’t change a thing: “I feel very grateful for every experience that I’ve had. It’s all a part of being a human being and shaping who you are in each moment.” Her only advice to her younger self would be this: “Be gentle with yourself.”